Social media increasingly used to sell counterfeits

The new trend of criminals selling fake products on social media platforms is expected to increase, a new report predicts.

The National Trading Standards’ annual Consumer Harm Report, which highlights scams and illicit activities that the public should be aware of, claimed consumers were being deceived by a number of emerging threats that cleverly use digital technologies.

Of particular concern was the presence of counterfeit and dangerous goods being advertised on social media platforms, where criminals can easily conceal their identity and disguise contact details.

The activity involves criminals disguising themselves as well-known brands and then luring potential buyers to their external sites that feature fake goods with low prices.

Another trend believed to become more popular is the growth in ‘micro-importers’, where the expansion of online marketplaces has seen UK consumers order goods online for onward sale. NTS said this practice can lead to fake and often dangerous products, like those with faulty chargers, ending up in people’s homes.

“This year we have continued to see criminals becoming more sophisticated. As technology advances, so do the tactics of criminals,” said Lord Toby Harris, chair of the National Trading Standards. “Scams today can reach more people than ever before as criminals manipulate digital technology and online platforms to access a larger pool of potential victims. Social media is increasingly being used for this type of criminal activity and our work has had to move rapidly to counter the threat to consumers.”

Mike Andrews, national coordinator of the NTS eCrime Team, said: “We are seeing increasing numbers of criminal traders from around the world using prominent social media platforms to sell their goods. It is becoming increasingly difficult for consumers to distinguish between legitimate, trustworthy traders and fraudsters who are selling dangerous and rip-off goods.”

To help tackle counterfeiting on social media, the National Trading Standards eCrime Team is working with partners in the National Markets Group and the Intellectual Property Office on a landmark operation that tackles piracy on social media. This has seen 129 investigations launched, nearly 10,000 images removed from social platforms and 309 warning notices issued.

In other eCrime investigations last year, 64 websites were brought to the attention of hosting companies, which have subsequently been taken down, while consumer complaints about copycat websites have decreased following the eCrime team’s crackdown.

Andrews said consumers should always use reputable retailers when purchasing items via social media. “Online shoppers should pay particular attention to any adverts that might appear in their social media feeds – these adverts and promotions can be set up by anyone and have been used by fraudsters to dupe consumers with a similar look and feel to genuine brands, luring users to their websites with flash sales for items that turn out to be fakes. People should abide by the timeless rule – if it looks too good to be true, then it probably is.”

The report also noted that while the use of social media platforms in counterfeit and illicit activity is increasing, it isn’t replacing doorstep crime or telephone scams. These traditional illicit activities are still prevalent, with cases reported likely to just be the tip of the iceberg, the report said. One emerging and growing trend is criminals impersonating authorities, such as the police or council officers, who tend to target the elderly and most vulnerable.

Lord Harris added: “We’ve published this report to help consumers and businesses identify potential cases of fraud and to encourage people to be on the lookout – both for online scams but also for criminals that continue to prey on people in vulnerable situations.”

In terms of clamping down on scams and illicit activity during the 2015-16 period, the report said NTS had prevented more than £70m in consumer detriment, more than £20m in business detriment and stopped 450,000 unsafe goods from entering the UK. There were also 77 criminal convictions, which led to 161 years’ worth of sentences being handed down.
The full report can be viewed at:

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